Shekhar Kapoor’s production, Bollywood: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told, which played outside competition at the Cannes Film Festival, came as a huge disappointment, particularly at a time when India is struggling to find some space, however tiny, here at what is undoubtedly the world’s largest movie carnival.
The film, strictly a documentary -- that has been helmed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (Delhi 6, Rang De Basanti) and Jeff Zimbalist (an American documentary moviemaker best known for his Favela Rising, The Two Escobars, and The Scribe of Urabá) -- is indeed a love story of Hindi film song sequences.
But it has been compiled in such a clumsy manner that even those like me who grew up on Bollywood found it thoroughly confusing. The film dazzles you all right, but beyond the bright colours, the often garish costumes and the opulent sets, it has nothing to offer. It leaves you deeply dissatisfied, and come on, one did not expect this from Kapoor and Mehra.
Termed as a musical tribute, the documentary shows hundreds of clips of dancing men and women, mouthing lyrically the saddest of songs, the happiest of songs. The mesmeric numbers from Mughal-E-Azam (Madhubala and Dilip Kumar), the lilting folk tunes from Shammi
No attempt has been made to put the images in some kind of chronological order, and without identification, they all appeared like scenes stringed together without any thought or sensitivity.
What is more, there is commentary, though sketchy. And apart from a cursory interlude with some Mumbaikars, there is little explanation coming. Finally, when Kapoor and his directors get some Bollywood celebrities to talk, they are frustratingly brief. Aishwarya Rai likens the movies to a thali, with "a little bit of everything .. there is some spice, there is some sugar, there is some sour stuff". Dev Anand feels that music is imperative in a Bollywood masala. Dixit likes the traditional songs the best.
How naïve and half-hearted the effort seemed. Little wonder, then, that with this kind of offering, Cannes is so wary about picking up an Indian movie.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Cannes Film Festival for over two decades)